A study into changing consumer relationships with commerce has uncovered the nation’s obsession with vintage – from what we buy, to how we buy it  

Indianapolis, Marketing has shifted dramatically to keep up with changing consumer demand. In 2022, personalization is at the core of any marketing strategy – customers expect consistency, and demand to be engaged with on their preferred channels.  

But what does that mean to customers, what did life look like before omnichannel, and what do shoppers most miss about their sales experiences? It appears vintage is back – in more ways than one. 

Three in five (60%) US consumers regularly buy vintage items, while significant numbers wish they could revisit the shopping experience of decades past, according to new research from omnichannel customer engagement platform Emarsys. The study of 2,041 American shoppers found that 23% shop vintage to decorate their home, 19% for pure sentimental value, and 17% as a retro hobby. With 22% of Americans resolving to buy less often (as they’re concerned about overconsumption), and 21% vowing to shop more sustainably at the start of the year, there’s also a moral motivation to reliving the past. * 

Classic brands and products populate the vintage purchase list, with VHS tapes, Etch-a-Sketch, Polaroid cameras (all 23%) and lava lamps and mood rings (22%) proving the most popular. In many cases, these items recall a more peaceful time, with 20% of Americans agreeing that they missed “simpler times” where they weren’t exposed 24/7 to brands across different mediums. 

Such items not only function in a way that is familiar for consumers, but they also serve as a slice of childhood nostalgia for consumers to take home. 31% of consumers specifically identified iconic TV commercials as something they missed from 90s marketing and shopping, with buying product through infomercials/catalogs (27%), and iconic TV jingles (24%), close behind. 

These numbers closely reflect the proportion of shoppers that expressed a preference for shopping in previous decades: 22% would like to revisit the stores and malls of the 1990s, while a similar 19% would head back to the 1980s to make their purchases if they could. The physical stores Americans would most happily travel back through time for include Radio Shack (24%), Blockbuster (22%), Circuit City (15%) and Borders (13%). 

With the influence of vintage sweeping across the entire nation – from inspiring fashion design to becoming core content for influencers around the world – it might not be a surprise that all ages are embracing the trend. Almost three quarters (72%) of 25-34s buy vintage, followed by 71% of 35-44s, 57% of 45-54s, and 39% of those 55+.  

Sara Richter, CMO at Emarsys, commented: “Retro is back! From the bargains available through open markets like The RealReal and eBay to titanic shows like Stranger Things championing retro in pop culture, today’s shoppers are hungry for the products of their past. And it’s not just what they buy — how they buy is also undergoing a retro revival. 

“People are craving the personal, face-to-face service from the past – but you don’t have to be a physical store to meet this demand for personal, friendly customer service.  

“Personalization is what shoppers have always wanted – and that’s about and creating trusted relationships. It’s about listening to the customer, learning their behaviors, and using that knowledge to deliver what customers want, when they want. So there’s a huge opportunity here for retailers to offer shopping experiences that tap into individual emotions and are crafted to each individual shopper – wherever and whenever they prefer to shop.  Being customer centric is not good enough anymore – businesses need to be customer obsessed

“Brands with both physical and online stores have the advantage of being able to collect zero and first party customer data and study customer behavior in-store to create targeted 1:1 personalized offers online that will really cut through the competition. In the age of nostalgia, a broad-brush approach just won’t cut it.” 

Understanding how shoppers were influenced in the past — as well as how technology impacts the present and will continue to impact the future of shopping — allows marketers to develop a deeper understanding of how they can win through customer obsession and a robust omnichannel marketing strategy, as we head into the busy holiday shopping season. 

Emarsys gives the following advice to marketers: 

  1. Understand the customer – start by creating a single source of truth that handles data privacy and consent. Then unify first-party data – including demographics, sales, support calls and behaviors – so you can better understand each customer and engage them with relevant content. 
  1. Personalize everywhere they are – build deeper relationships with customers by delivering personalized, omnichannel engagements. With AI-insights enriching customer profiles and identifying priority customer segments, you can quickly engage them with relevant content when it matters most.  
  1. Engage where they want – customers expect consistency, and demand to be engaged with on their preferred channels. Easily deliver consistent, relevant messaging across email, web, mobile, ads, and in-store to engage customers, wherever they are. 

To that end, Emarsys is encouraging consumers, brands, and marketers all over the world to attend the Emarsys Power To The Marketer Festival, in association with Vogue Business, from 4–6 October 2022. During this three-day event, leading brands such as Gibson, Saks OFF 5TH and  Estée Lauder will come together to celebrate marketers and the impact they make every day. The Festival is taking place live in-person, online and on-demand, and you can register for free today.